Black Panther and the Islamphobia Debate

“First, I need to tell you who I am,” is how Somali Canadian researcher Hodan Mohamed opens her response to  Faisal Kutty’s critique of  Black Panther (2018).  Mohamed then demonstrates her qualifications to speak on both Islamophobia and anti-Blackness. She writes, “I am an educator, researcher with a focus on diversity and inclusion, curriculum development, public engagement, immigration, and Criminal Justice System working with underserved and underemployed Black youth in Toronto.”  Like so many other Black women, Black Muslim women have to establish our credentials just to be taken seriously in any discussion. Black women experts are often dismissed by people who lack cultural competence or knowledge of the field.  In this case, we should pay careful attention to the writings and thoughts of Black women. While much of my graduate work from 2004-2008 focused on colonial surveillance of Muslim communities in Northern Nigeria, as an African American Muslim I do not speak for Nigeria.  But I hope to highlight important voices we should listen to in discussions on why Black Panther’s #BringBackOurGirls rescue operation was important  and point to better ways at responding to our discomfort. The debate about Islamophobia in Black Panther highlights intra-Muslim racial power dynamics, where the Black Muslim issues and concerns are subsumed for the sake of a monolithic ummah.

This picture was in 2017 featuring recently released  Chibok girls meeting with President Buhari. Today, 100  of the Chibok girls remain missing.

Roughly half of Nigeria’s 186 million population are Muslim, and  40% Christian and 10% indigenous African faiths. According to a 2015 Pew study  with the top 10 largest Muslim populations,  Nigeria ranks the 5th ahead of Egypt. Nigeria’s Muslim population is largely concreted in the North of Nigeria.  Boko Haram, whose name “Western education is forbidden,”  brazen abducted of  276 girls from their school in the north eastern Nigerian town of Chibok. Obiageli Ezekwesili, former minister of Education in Nigeria and Vice President of the African Division of the World Banks founded Bring Back our Girls and according to the website,. It spread to social media via the millions of Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans on twitter who were joined by social justice advocates all over the world.” It then went on to become one of the largest social media campaigns.  Black Panther includes a brief scene where the soon to be crowned King of Wakanda,  T’Challa extracts Nakia who is in on a spy mission in the Simbasa jungle where Boko Haram hides out. Daniel Oruba writes Black Panther executive producer, Nate Moore explains the purpose for the scene:

The notion that Wakanda exists, has all these resources, and is in Africa — a continent that is plagued by conflict of different kinds — we knew we wanted to tell a story of whether or not they’d feel a sense of responsibility.

And [missing Chibok girls] is a conflict that is unfortunately still ongoing. We wanted them to come face to face with a real thing.

We would have been cheapening what Wakanda meant if we didn’t tackle that, because this is a real thing that people should be aware of if they are not. We didn’t want to exploit it, we wanted to shine a light on it.


Nigerians of all faith were elated when the Black Panther paid homage to an issue that their nation was still grappling with.


While Nigerians celebrated the inclusion of Boko Haram, some Muslims living in the West  felt uncomfortable that a Muslim led insurgency was mentioned at all in the Box office record breaking film.

Kutty writes, “The scene inadvertently reinforces what colonial studies experts such as University of Toronto Professor Sherene Razack call the stereotypes of the barbaric Muslim man, oppressed Muslim woman and imperilled non-Muslim.” Some people were upset that the kidnapper used wallah, a Hausa word and kefiyyas, something that Boko Haram members frequently wear.  A Muslim chaplain  Sami Aziz wrote in Medium that the film didn’t show the balanced portrayal of Muslims.  However, one of the rescued offered Islamic prayers and said Allah. Others pointed to the rescued girls taking off their scarves. While girls threw off the large scarf but still wore small head coverings more akin to traditional clothing of the region.  


Real life Boko Haram Image source:

However, the response amongst some non-Black Muslims was pointedly different than that of Nigerians. For about a decade, a toxic ideology, disintegration of traditional Islamophic authority tied to indigenous African institutions, and collapse of the state has led to Boko Haram. The two minute scene explored sex trafficking and child soldiers, two war crimes that fuel groups like Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army (which was a warped version of Christianity). Asha Noor, a Somali American community organizer who works on Islamophobia in Michigan says:

It may not be the best depiction, but it is accurate. But in the movie, it was dealt with by Africans. That is the ideal way of how issues should be dealt with in Africa should be handled, rather intervention from outsiders. Now all these South Asians and Arabs complaining about the depiction about something that has happened and is happening. But they’ve been silent.  You need to be the number one advocate for girls taken by Boko Haram.

What makes it even more tragic is that while the depiction of Muslims behaving badly embarasses us Muslims in the West, we are not uplifting the voices of Nigerians who have been affirmed or the stories of the victims of Boko Haram atrocities.

The Muslim derailing of Black Panther is reminiscent of 2014, when Middle Eastern activists derailed MIchelle Obama’s signal boost of the  #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.  Instead centering Black girls who were lost, Muslim twitter centered Pakistan, Yemen, and  some threw in Somalia to be inclusive. Four years later, many of the girls haven’t found their way home. And just the week alone, 100 more school girls have been kidnapped. Likewise, our discomfort with negative depiction of Muslims keeps our communities from supporting local communities facing real and imminent threat.

This raises the question, what makes something Islamophobic? The Islamophobia Research & Documentation project explains that Islamophobia was was first introduced in 1991 to mean “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” The website provide a working definition:

Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.

How are some films that depict conflict in Muslim communities Islamophobic and some not?  Just because something makes us uncomfortable doesn’t make it Islamophobic.  Like Hodan Mohamed, numerous Black Muslim thought leaders contend that the scene was not Islamophobic. The scene spoke to a real issue that is affecting communities in the region. Dawud Walid, who has been in the forefront of addressing Islamophobia in Michigan also shared his thoughts on the film,

Why are some non-Black Muslims focused on this aspect of the film, rather than centering Nigerian narratives or even the narrative of the film? Layla Poulos proposed, “Perhaps they couldn’t relate to all those Black bodies.” Asha Noor, the pointed out, “You don’t have them attacking other Marvel white centered films for their anti-Muslim depictions. They don’t see themselves in T’Challa, and they don’t aspire to be part of that. So all you have is critique. They just stress me out. I don’t have time for that.” Those arguing that the film is Islamophobic are pitting Black Muslims against their two identities. To watch the film, they have to wrestle with whether celebrating this moment is betraying their faith.  It truly is exhausting when non-Black Muslims excercise their cultural capital to speak for all of us, and derail important conversations that Black Muslim should be having.

As Dawud Walid pointed out there was a lot of Islamic imagery, including homage to the great mosque of Djene. In Wakanda there were numerous representations of Muslim cultural identity including but not limited to Fulbe, Wolof, Tuareg, Hausa, and Mandinke. These included certain robes tied to Muslim clerical linages, Sahelian/Sudanese cultural elements including dress and architecture, pendants that many Africans wear that hold verses of the Qur’an,and  names that evoke Muslim identities. Costume designer Ruther Carter highlights that the Tuareg were important in representing the merchant tribe. Some of these Muslim elements reflected in the Pan-African imagery of Wakanda go largely undetected by people unfamiliar with West African or Sudano/Sahelian cultures. Black Muslims showed up to the film wearing their traditional African garb, and they were welcomed and embraced by their kinfolk of all faiths. 

Following the publication of the Kutty’s article and the viral social media post, some Muslims, mostly from South Asian and Middle Eastern heritage, said that they were boycotting the movie. I don’t think that my essay would sway them to watching the film. Nor is that necessarily my interest. What makes this tragic is that the Black Panther could do a great deal in uprooting  anti-Blackness and starting difficult conversations in our faith community. It happens to be that Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim communities have long histories of anti-Blackness, narratives and depictions that date back to trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trade, which are now exacerbated by global white supremacy, and model minority narratives as strategies for assimilation in the West.  

Kutty’s article didn’t reference Africanist scholars or even Northern Nigerian Muslims who would be directly impacted by the film.  Had he done so, then perhaps his article would have opened up nuanced discussions about Islam in Africa, African Islam, and Black Orientalism.  But to do that, one would have to dig a bit deeper, to do so would mean to recognize the rich 1400 years of Islam in Africa and the agency of Black Muslim voices in practicing and interpreting their faith. With a film on track to reach one billion in sales, as Muslims we are not seizing the opportunity to increase awareness about #BringBackOurGirls and even raise funds  to support Boko Haram’s victims. Instead, we are arguing about how it makes Muslims look. This is stressful. It is tiring. And ain’t nobody got time for that.


I offer up a few  to people who are not Black watching the film.

  1. Be humble and don’t argue.  Especially with Black Muslims or Africans about the film. This is especially the case if your opinion is contested by scholars, organizers, activists and leaders whose work is on the front lines of addressing anti-Blackness and Islamophobia or they are Africanist scholars. When exploring the complexities of our multiple identities, Black Muslim voices should not be subsumed in service of a “monolithic” ummah. Within the framework of cultural competency, that is akin to cultural destructiveness.
  2. Evaluate your implicit bias. If your main take away was that one short scene where one group of bad guy may have perhaps claimed the same religion as you, maybe you need to explore some of your ability to relate to Black characters. One place to start is the Black-White implicit association test . If you’re not happy with the results, the test isn’t wrong. It means you have to do some work to interrupt that bias.
  3. Lean into the discomfort you feel in that film. De-center yourself and how your identity groups are depicted in the film. This may be the time when you have to explore where you identities are privileged and targeted. It may not be fun to recognize that  your faith identity may be oppressive to other groups (i.e. women, religious minorities in Muslim majority societies, people whose societies were raided and traffic to fuel the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trade for 1400 years); It’s called intersectionality.
  4. Read #BlackMuslimReads. This would be the time to start exploring  African scholarship on Orientalism, African Islam, and Islam in Africa. I offer up my bibliography on race and slavery in Muslim societies This would be the time to dive into the works of  Black American scholars like Sherman Jackson, Dawud Walid, or Su’ad Abdul Khabeer who lare experts in Black orientalism to see if your take has some basis
  5. Get trained.  Sign up for anti-racism training course.  MuslimARC offers some to help provide you with some critical cultural competency and a shared language to understand many of the issues of power, cultural domination, and narrative shift. We hope you take this as an opportunity to begin a long journey of collective liberation.  






Black Panther and the Power of Imagination

I was in the mountains at a training retreat when Black Panther (2018) was released in theaters. So I only glimpsed the initial reviews during intermittent breaks in my program. My consolation was that in the thin crisp mountain air,  I had time to work with brilliant leaders of color and reflect on my leadership strengths.  It was just a movie, I told myself. I could geek out on getting to root causes of social problems in the Inland Empire, drawing on the historical context of the rise of the nation state and white supremacy.  As an anti-racism educator I draw upon my strength of historical context, as well as my others strengths in strategy, learning, input, and connection to dream, plan, and build a multi faith multiracial world that could be.  I have done that since I was a child, first with a notebook and colored pencils, then with a typewriter, a word processor, a desktop, then a laptop.  I used those skills to dream, plan, and build imaginary worlds. Science fiction and fantasy writers often created worlds where someone like me would never exist. I  sketched and wrote to create my own stories with characters who were idealized versions of people who looked like my multi-hued family.  Watching Black Panther, felt like a long awaited home coming. It was an epic, a fantasy, an Afro-futuristic world that gave life to my unrealized dreams.  

Over the past two weeks, I had to swallow a lot of envy as I couldn’t get away from work or obligations to find time to watch the film. Meanwhile, my timeline lit up with my friends and associates  seated on Wakandan thrones, going in large groups and decked out in their finest traditional and African inspired clothing.  I too had been waiting for some time. My interest in Black Panther came largely through the first Black woman superhero, Storm. I came to know her through the X-men cartoons.  In the cartoon, she was beautiful, powerful, magical, cold, and aloof. She was also cut off from her culture. She was always alone. Who loved the gorgeous and powerful Storm? Who loves the magical black girls, the darkly hued warrior women? Over a decade ago, I walked into a comic book store and the cover art answered my question. It was Black Panther. I didn’t know much about him. But rendering of the marriage of Storm and Black Panther took my breath away. A decade later I became reacquainted as Prince T’Challa appeared with his female bodyguards in Marvel’s Civil War. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who was on twitter at the time, announced that he was writing the series. Acclaimed author Roxanne Gay wrote the Worlds of Wakanda spin off series. Even though it was a big deal, I had no idea how big it would get.  

Chancellor Williams didn’t pull any punches

Nor did I realize how profound Black Panther would be for me. As a child, I was fed the National Geographic gaze of Africans and I was ashamed of my own history. It wasn’t until I went to high school, and began reading Black nationalist, Pan-African, and revolutionary writings that I started to gain a sense of self, my own history and pride in my roots. Some of the first books I read right after I graduated high school set my journey to become Muslim. The most significant books were Chancellor William’s The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race Between 4500 B.C. and 2000 A.D. and the FBI files of Malcolm X. Becoming Muslim at 18 was not just a leap to faith, it was a leap to embracing my full identity as a daughter of the African Diaspora.  My study of Muslims and the pre-modern world gave me a glimpse of what cosmopolitanism could look like outside of white supremacy. As a young person who newly became Muslim, I dove into medieval Arabic literature. I found texts and historical accounts that countered the egalitarian message that I embraced when I became Muslim. When I transferred to a four year college in 1998, I embarked on a long journey to understand racial formation in Muslim societies, Islam in Africa, and Black identities in the Middle East. Because they didn’t need written language, outside the Arabic literature in sub-Saharan Africa, we don’t have many written accounts of African societies without slave raiding or under threat from a foreign hegemony.

The Black Panther film  was so rich for me, as a child of Diaspora and a scholar of African history. Africanists often do thought experiments to imagine what could be.  Walter Rodney inspired us deeply to think about the underdevelopment. What if whole regions weren’t depopulated as sons and daughters weren’t carried off? What if the railways were built to connect African cities, rather than export raw resources to Europe, Asia, and the Americas? What if mass deaths didn’t occur and Africa was allowed to develop without the influence of colonialism and now neoliberal policies? What if toxic strains of foreign ideologies hadn’t bred internalized racism and dehumanization of other tribes, faiths, or nations?

All of this is some heady stuff for an action film. So many Black women intellectuals have written amazing pieces, such as “Black women ‘never freeze’” by Dara Mathis  there is even a #BlackPantherSyllabus and #WakandanSyllabus. During this cultural moment, while Black folks globally are having deep discussions and more petty debates about who has a right to wear daishikis, some of my co-religionists take umbrage to a 2 minute scene involving Boko Haram and called the film Islamophobic. It is akin to the derailing of the viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign, where some Middle East activists used the hashtag to critique Michelle Obama. Sadly, this week Boko Haram has kidnapped a dozen school girls. While I’m basking in Vanta Blackness, I don’t want my celebration to be derailed. So I’ll save my discourse analysis for another day. But I hope that the film raises awareness to drum up support for African led initiatives to combat Boko Haram. If only there was a Nakia to help bring those girls home. In the meantime, more of you can spend time learning about African history, reading African literature, and uprooting the anti-Black racism that your communities have been complicit in. We should also be more open to the deeper messages in the film and focus our energies on that.  A visionary place like Wakanda can show us that the Black imagination is key for collective liberation. 


Some Good Reads

Panther: an A-Z of African Nuggets

Is Black Panther Islamophobic? A Somali Canadian Perspective












When Life isn’t Fair…

I don’t think I’ve passed by a single pharmacy or beauty supply section in any corner store or hypermarket without encountering some skin lightening creams, soaps, powders, lotions, or treatments. It makes me acutely aware of one thing in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa—Black is NOT beautiful for many of these communities. There are skin lightening creams in the states, for sure. I remember on my way back from abroad, I stopped by a Queens shop to get my eyebrows threaded and henna. The lady next to me stopped in to get some brightening. She went in the back of the salon and underwent the uncomfortable chemical process. She happily walked out the salon a hint of a shade lighter. Several times I’ve seen flyers featuring skin brightening/whitening treatments at halal stores in the Bay Area. During the year I took a summer class in Berkeley, I discovered an Indian owned spa/salon right on the halfway mark between my dorms and Cal. I grew up with sistas who used to slather on Black and White creame everyday. My family never thought there was anything wrong with being brown. In fact, my mother used to put my sister in the sun when she was a little in hopes that her porcelein white skin would pick up a little tan. It took years before my sister tanned, as opposed to just burn and freckle. Now she has a peachy complexion of a southern California girl. The other day, she said her friend told her she was still to pale. It was funny to have that conversation considering the recent controversy over a skin bleaching product. Normally skin lightening creams have been marketed to women. But it took a campaign designed to appeal to men that finally drew controversy. Shahrukh Khan endorsed “Fair and Handsome,” a bleaching creme designed for men. The BBC reported on the criticism he received in an article titled, Beyond the Pale?

But there are many in blogistan who have written insightful posts about colorism and skin bleaching. Two of my favorite entries are “Ultra Brown” and The Right Shade. In addition to recent coverage of the controversy, I pulled up a few articles about the health risks of skin bleaching. I was suprised to see the prevalence of bleaching creams in Africa’s most populous nation. The article, Whitening Skin Can Be Deadlyreveals:

So, the prevalent medical evidence of high levels of mercury poisoning among women of Saudi, African, Asian and Mexican backgrounds reflects a common and prevailing belief that whiter skin has greater currency and appeal.

The article, African women risk all in quest for lighter skin colour, reports:

In Nigeria, where the use of skin-lightening creams is widespread, an estimated 77 per cent of women use them. In Senegal, the figure is 52 per cent, in South Africa 35 percent and in Mali 25 per cent.

Researchers in South Africa have pointed out that, “Society has a significant impact on the misuse of skin-lightening agents. It is known that during slavery years, light-skinned people were often given preferable treatment…and in modern times, studies have indicated that the majority of black men prefer light-skinned women as partners, girlfriends or wives.”

I walk past those pale women in black abayas who look like they never stepped outside in the sun a day in their lives. They add to their achievement by caking on the finest, whitest face powder.I wonder how they see me. And sometimes I see the disdain in their eyes. Even in societies where you see all sorts of shades, milky moon white to rich mohaganey browns, I find those bleaching creams offend me. They send a not so subtle message, that life is so much better when you’re fair. But you cannot be fair enough. Each time I see those creams, I feel like it is taking a jab at me and the beautiful brown people that I love so much.


Tariq Nelson reminded us that colorism still exists in his blog entry, And you Still Deny it. His short entry directs us to Umm Adam’s blog entry Racism and Colorism in Saudi. Time and time again, we read about negative perceptions of African Americans. Dozens of African American authors, like Toni Morrison in her book The Bluest Eye, have explored racial self hatred. Recently more people are recounting stories of colorism and racial self-hatred among Afro-Arab communities. When I went to Southern Morocco, I saw the most beautiful Moroccans in all shades and colors. It reminded me of home.After reading the entry, I didn’t feel angry instead I felt kind of sad for the people who are not allowed to see their beauty.

I went to New Jersey to visit my grandmother in 2005. One day she brought me to her work in order to introduce me to her co-workers. My grandmother, a seventy year old chocolate woman who beamed as she introduced her grandchildren, told her co-workers,”My babies are the colors of the rainbow.” Last June my family took me out to lunch at in celebration of my graduation. A white American couple stopped by our table and told my mother, “You have a beautiful family!” My mom smiled, “Yes, they are all my babies.” My mom noted, “Whenever we go somewhere people stare and are drawn to us. It’s like they’re suprised to see attractive Black people.” My mother gave birth to striking children of distinct hues: dark chocolate, peachy cream, and me somewhere in between. I enjoy the skin that I’m in. I look at my family pictures and all the shades, I think of that poem:

Harlem Sweeties
by Langston Hughes

Have you dug the spill
Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims
On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie,
Caramel treat,
Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat.
Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream,
Chocolate darling
Out of a dream.
Walnut tinted
Or cocoa brown,
Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored
To plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness
In Harlem’s no lack.
Glow of the quince
To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze
To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial,
Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors
Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa,
Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar,
A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy,
Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon
To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold,
Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum
Harlem girls vary—
So if you want to know beauty’s
Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious,
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.

On the Desirability of Brown Babies

I was a bit inspired to write this blog after reading Umar Lee’s blog, On Being a White Muslim in America . I also read a few blogs where the authors stated that black women wanted to have babies by white or Arab men in order to have light skinned and curly headed babies. Sure, I know some ignorant black women who have said similar things. But for the most par, my friends are conscious and wouldn’t spout of some nonenense like that. On the other hand, I have heard a few educated black men say that they want to marry a mixed girl because mixed girls are prettier. I have also heard a few black say that they wanted to marry someone white, Asian, or Latina so they would have pretty babies. As one author stated in the comments, it was often hoodrats who stated that they desired a non-black baby’s daddy in order to have babies with good hair. But more than blackpeople, I have heard these statements from members outside of Black American community. In fact, I hear about the desirability for pretty-brown-mixed-babies from liberal white, Asian, Arab, South Asian, and Pacific Islander women. So, if we are going to analyze and critique the ethnic self-hatred of some African women and Black American women, we must analyze and critique the reasons why some women want to adopt African babies or have bi-racial babies who do not look anything like them.
Is it ethnic self-hatred? Is it admiration for African features? Is it a vision of a racial utopia where we are all shades of brown? Or is it something else. I would argue that some really problematic constructs underly America’s fascination with mixed babies.

Keep in mind, I am not saying that all people involved in interracial relationships hold these views. But there are some tendencies that are problematic. I am not saying that mixed people are not attractive. I think all groups and ethnicities are beautiful in their own light, including multi-racial babies. And being in a multi-cultural environment, I enjoy seeing little blonde babies and little Asian babies, as well as little chocolate drop babies, and the curly headed brown babies running around. However, I just find it problematic when you assume that multi-racial children are more attractive than mono-racial babies. And while this might sound liberal and progressive, especially if you are a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant who is rejecting white supremacy, it is still supporting white supremacy because you imply that an African person is only beautiful if their genese are diluted with European, Asian, or Meditterranean genetics. This is problematic in a European dominated society with European standards of beauty. It has had disastrous effects in the Black American community. And it is the reason why we celebrate Beyonce, as opposed to Kelly. For those of us who are phenotypically Africa, these notions are especially harmful, as they affect our self image. But my focus is not on why African women and women of African descent (Black American, Black Latina, and Carribbean) and their responses to European standards of beauty in a global order that is dominated by Europe and the West. I am talking about women, and perhaps some men, who are not members of the African Diaspora who want to have ethnic babies–especially black babies. I see it as part of fetishization and there is something about fetishizing black-ness that is deeply disturbing. Then on top of the fetishization, the celebration of those who are not-quite-black or nearly-white over their darker skinned counterparts.

I live in California, the Bay Area that is. There is a lot more racial mixing and there really isn’t a middle class black community anywhere in sight of Northern California. So my experiences reflect the product of my environment. In California mixed families and bi-racial people are common. More often than not,it is the mother who is non-black and a black father. Few of my black friends were single mothers, but many of my non-black friends eventually did have mixed babies out of wed lock and at young ages. I often see white, Asian, Latina, etc. women (and teenage mothers) pushing a stroller with either a clearly bi-racial child or an ambiguous child. I have pretty good ambiguously black radar because so many people in my family are light skinned, multi-racial, and racially ambiguous. Sometimes it is the subtleties that you notice, but I digress. I grew up in a terribly racist elementary school. I was subject to a lot of racial discrimination because I was the only black girl in my school. But now when I look back, there were a few mixed children in my class who just passed. They were not subject to the daily enslaught of racist jokes and cruelties such as “let’s play segregation today.” On the other hand, my brother’s experiences in Santa Clara were different because many of the white and Mexican American girls pursued him. Black men were cool, they were the athletes, the dancers, the popular kids. But for black girls in integrated environments, it tends to be a lot harder. We are often overlooked by our black male counterparts and the non-black men will not take a second look at us.

Now that black is in, a lot of women who are not black want little curly headed brown babies. Someone noted that in Belgium and Amsterdam, there are European women who get pregnant by African men and raise their children on their own. I don’t know much about this phenomena, but I thought it was interesting. But this leads me to reflect on the kind of ideologies that non-black mothers tell their children. Some of the ideas the ideas are really messed up. Some believe in the racial essentialisms. For instance, one bi-racial man told me that because he was black and white he reflected the merging of two distant strands of humanity. This made him more powerful than either because he was a bridge between the two races. Of course, this is bullshit. In fact, there is more of a genetic range in East Africa than anywhere in the world. In fact, European and Asian lines are really a small recent branch off of a long and ancient family tree. Some bi-racial families like to tell their children that they are extra special (as if Black Americans are ethnically or racially pure) and that they bi-racial people saviors to the world. Some claim that racial mixing is the solution to the world’s problems. But they often fail to look at the case of Brazil to see that social stratification and racism exts there, despite official policies that encouraged racial mixing. All one has to look at how white the government looks like to this date. Some of the racial essentialisms serve to create dangerous color hierarchy that only serves to reaffirm white supremacy. They try to teach their children that the world is color-blind, but many fail to teach their children the complexities of their heritage (especially the Black heritage that has been silent in historical record). The desirability of having brown babies often has little to do with affirming this rich heritage or linking up with the struggle of people of African descent.

At times, it has to do with the ways individuals would like to construct themselves and the fantasies that they have about the black “other.” It can be a way of rejecting white privilege. A white woman with a brown baby is not accepted into white elite circles. Nor are Asian women accepted in their communities and Latina women are often ostracized by their friends, families, and associates. Many are disowned for dating or marrying outside their race (On the other hand it is rare for black families to disown their sons or daughters. And they often raise multi-racial children and treat them well). Having brown babies can serve as a way of advancing an agenda or affirming a new constructed ethnic identity. They can participate in black culture because they now have a rightful place as mother of a black child. However, many women who only date black men and have brown babies would not change their own ethnicity. They do not want to be black women at all. They comletely enjoy their privileged place as desired/objectified other in a community that is so rife with self hatred. In fact, many non-black women feel superior, while at the same time, they often resent black women. I have heard several non-black women talk completely disparaging of black women, our looks, our hair, our body shape, our attitudes, and intelligence. (I am sure that many are regretful that they disclosed to me their off the cuff thoughts. But they have been extremely insightful). This is especially the case when they are competing for the attentions of a black man, or trying to bolster themselves up when comparing themselves to their partners’ exes. I have always wondered why some of my friends and associates felt that confortable saying such statements to me. Perhaps they were looking for me to validate their views. And I take responsbility for not challenging them on their wack statements. It seems as if many non-black women who are into urban/hip hop/black culture hope to raise new brown/black women who will accept their authenticity and be color blind. Having brown babies seems to be a complex social phenomena that I think we have only begun to unpack. We should look at what’s going on to understand how colorism is being reproduced in our community and how the ultimately can have devastating effects on those who are phenotypically Black.

It’s Real Dammit

My mind is sorta fried after a marathon writing and revising session. Still have a ton of data to add to my research, but it is coming along. So, I decided I’m going to write about some superficial stuff, but it has been on my mind.

I posted a picture on facebook showing a look I used to have. I was going through this phase, listening to lots of electronica, feeling all alternative. I was also bored with my hair which at the time I wore straight more often than curly and decided to go with bangs. Being that I’m obsessed with eyebrows, I couldn’t bring myself to cover them with bangs so I went with short bangs. The first day at work, they looked strange. But my co-worker who was a washed up musician in an Ohio industrial band (He even went on a double date with Trent Resnor to a Prince concert. How cool is that) sorta peeped the look and was like, “Hey that’s a cool Betty Paige Look.” But it wasn’t banging, so I went back and cut them shorter till I achieved this ultra cool retro look. Black people didn’t get it, but a lot of other people liked it. But having short bangs was annoying when I wanted to go natural. I had to wear a head band.

So, I posted this pic with my Betty paige bangs from when I was an undergrad. And at this gathering, my home boy was like, “I have a question, in that pic with the Betty Paige bangs was that a wig?” This was suprising coming from him. One time at this BBQ, another brotha who was staring at my big hair asked me if it was real. And my home boy was like, “Of course its real.” But this time with the bangs, he was like, it doesn’t look real.

Since I was in junior high, I’ve had a lot of negative attention about my hair. When I graduated, I was teased as I walked the stage. They were like, “BUSH! Busshhhhhhhhhh” I remember going to a track meet during my freshman year, the two rival schools with the biggest track teams, and a chorus of guys began singing, “Ewwwwwww is it really your hair? Is it really a weave? Is it really your hair?” Hair? Weave? Hair? Weave?” Do you remember that song? Anyways, it was totally humiliating, because I tried to do everything to make my hair look more real. I eventually cut off almost all of my hair. But as it grew out, it just looked like a mop. It just sorta looked like a short wig. Oh well.

A few years later when it had all grown back, I had some girls who had beef with me say, “She thinks she’s all that because she has all that hair.” Some girls tried to jump my best friend and cut off all her hair. Its crazy like that sometimes.

When I wore my hair natural, people thought I had a Jerri curl. I went back to straight because the curl wasn’t crackin then. When I had my hair staight other females would go up to my friends and ask them what was up with my wig. Some people said because it wasn’t straight straight, like bone straight that it looked fake. So, I would spend hours flat ironing my hair to make it thinner, smoother, less rattier looking. I became obsessive about my hair being bone straight.

One day, I realized how ridiculous it was. I was in a period of transition and knew I wanted to practice Islam. People saw me go through this transition. And some brotha said, “No, don’t cover your hair you are the only black girl that has long hair!!” Of course, I thought that was crazy and I had friends who had big heads of hair to hold it down for the sistas. Me, I was committed to the cause. No more questions about fake hair for the 5 years that I covered.

So five years later, when I decided to uncover my hair was like waist length. So, I was kinda freaked out. And I wasn’t really used to lots of male attention, so that was extra wierd. Within a few months, the questions came again. Somebody said the other day that any black woman who has long hair is suspect. Ain’t that something? I’m not knockin sistas for rockin weaves. White girls do it too, they just aren’t suspected as much as sistas. But on the subject of realness, I have had a number of things questioned. Things that are me, but people tend to call into question.

Are those your real nails?
Is that all your hair?
Are those your boobs or did you get a boob job?
And couple of times, people asked me if I had contacts because my eyes are brown and not black.

I have had people comment on my nails and say that I am vain. People comment on my display of gratuitious cleavage. People, i can’t wear half tank tops, blouses, and tops in stores because I’ll look like a stripper. But I’m not going to hide them by appearing overweight. This is my hair my crazy hair that sheds all over the place. NO, it’s not a french manicure, but the way my nails just grow. So don’t try to lecture me about nail polish and wudu. My great grandmother was a wet nurse and these mammary glands are inherited. I don’t feel like I need to be self conscious about what was given natural. It just bothers me when I have to constantly justify just being the way I am.

And if people can look through the superficial things that have come into question, they’ll see me: Just me…trying to be real, trying to enjoy being real.